This Women’s Giving Circle is Focusing on Race and Gender on Chicago’s South Side



Giving circles are a big part of the philanthropy scene in Chicago, and there are quite a few of them around town. We’ve always loved giving circles for their potential to draw in diverse individuals who may otherwise never have access to a philanthropic community and the resources that go along with that. But as we’ve pointed out, giving circles still remain predominantly white and led by women who are already prominent members of their community and have a fair amount of cash to spare.

This is why our ears perked up when we first heard about a new South Side Giving Circle in Chicago. It’s the latest targeted effort of the Chicago Foundation for Women (CFW), a local funder that is certainly no stranger to the giving circle concept. Up until now, CFW has supported two regionally specific giving circles, the North Shore Giving Circle and the Western Suburbs Giving Circle. Then there’s also three additional CFW giving councils that focus on LGBTQ giving, support for diverse communities, and investing in girls and young women.

The newcomer on the scene is the South Side Giving Circle, which is all about gender and racial equity in this region of the city. But more specifically, it will be focusing on the inequities faced by black women and girls, as well as bringing together black women philanthropists.

Olive-Harvey College president and giving circle member Felicia Davis said in a press release:

As a lifelong Chicagoan and South Side resident, I am deeply connected to the fabric of our South Side communities. I am excited to help lead this effort and join forces with other Black women to give back to the part of Chicago that nurtured me as a young girl, and to create opportunities for Black women and the next generation of Black girls.

Meanwhile, CFW's president and CEO, K. Sujata, has emphasized that giving circles like this one put grantmaking control in the hands of the local community and are part of CFW’s overall strategy to make philanthropy more inclusive. The new South Side Giving Circle is unique and stands out from the others at CFW because of its very targeted focus on black women and girls. We've previously reported on giving circles that address the needs of a particular group in this way, like the Asian Women Giving Circle. Other examples include the Latina Giving Circle and African-American Women’s Giving & Empowerment Circle, both in Arizona. Giving Circles can be a good way to mobilized resources for groups that are bypassed by established funders. 

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Even with this specific focus, this new giving circle’s grants will still stick to CFW’s core issues of economic security, freedom from violence, and access to healthcare and health information. In true CFW fashion, we expect to see both advocacy grants and direct services come out of the new South Side Giving Circle.

Starting a new giving circle is tough, but it’s a lot easier when you have an established expert, like CFW, on your side. The new giving circle members won’t have to reinvent the wheel or start the grantee screening process from scratch, as the CFW staff has those tools already established and ready to apply to a new region and demographic. Elsewhere, we've seen community foundations play an active role in nurturing giving circles. 

In this era of #MeToo, it's no secret that women-centric philanthropy has been gaining more momentum and solidarity. Women’s foundations and their affiliated giving circles are being looked to put an end to sexual harassment and gender bias, and then to keep those conversations going even when they’re no longer newsworthy. CFW has risen to this challenge lately by hosting talks and collaborating with groups like the Chicago Workers Collaborative and Warehouse Workers for Justice. Adding new giving circles, like the one highlighted here, is yet another way to engage and tap into the ultra-specific local needs that larger foundations tend to overlook.

CFW’s South Side Giving Circle is open to women living in Chicago’s South Side neighborhoods and the south suburbs. It already has more than 30 members and is still accepting new members for 2018.